Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Camp Oropeza Stories, Part 1: Cabin Bonding

Camp friendships are a strange thing. Sleeping away from home--often for the first time--combined with the tight quarters of camp cabins leads to fast friendships, bitter quarrels, and plenty of midnight secrets. For the girls in my cabin this summer, it was no exception. What is more, there was an unusually high proportion of Type-A personalities in this small group, so navigating even simple decisions became a bit of a high-wire act for their unwary counselor.

Luckily, our camp schedule (aided by the Paradise Point staff) included lots of opportunities for team building and learning about trust and community. As the girls paddled in canoes together, climbed the rock wall, attempted the low ropes course, and played games, they began to learn more about each other and build friendships, with their cabin-mates and the other campers.

On the day before we left, I took my cabin up on the hill for some devotion time alone. Paradise Point has a lovely labyrinth overlooking the lake that provides a great place for reflection and God-seeking. Looking at the beautiful creation surrounding us, we talked together about God's creation of each of us--the qualities that make us unique and wonderful. With a little prompting, they were able to identify many qualities--both internal and external--that made their cabin-mates special. "She is really good at climbing and swimming--as good as the boys," they said about one girl. "She has great style," about another. "She tells great jokes," and "She's really nice to everyone."

As the campers walked through the labyrinth, I asked them to thank God for creating them and for their new friends. Just as the maze twists and turns, our lives rarely take the path we think they will. There are always plot twists in our stories. But by remembering the beauty that each person brings into this life, we can overcome the things that pull us apart and find unity on our journey together.

Monday, July 2, 2012


If some one was to tell me a few years ago that I would be a preschool teacher, I would tell them they were crazy. Actually the crazy thing is that I enjoy being a preschool teacher.

Before we started the preschool we had a parent meeting. We invited all of the parents to see the classrooms, ask questions, and make paper dolls so their kids would have some memento of home while at school.

Parent Meeting: Making paper dolls

Here we are half way done with the preschool. We have about a dozen little ones signed up. We have four subjects that we are teaching; Literacy, Math, Science, and Art. In Literacy we are teaching them to write their name, learn the alphabet, and read. In Math we are teaching them to count and recognize numbers. We are also doing fun science projects like dancing raisins, making playdoe, and making our own side walk paint. In Art we are asking them to be creative and imaginative through paint and crafts.

Snacks: Apples and Vanilla Cookies

Every week is focused on one particular children's book that we organize the rest of the class around. This week we read the hungry caterpillar.

Story Time

Every week I am impressed with the children's progress. They are some of the smartest children that I know. They may be a handful some days but it is worth it.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Adventure Club: Taking the next step

It was another beautiful day of hiking at Adventure Club last Wednesday.  Although we were a small group this week, we had fun exploring the foothills above Boise, near Bogus Basin.

The hills are full of beautiful, sparkly, and sometimes translucent pieces of mica, quartz, and agate, which made climbing around on the rocks even more fun.

However, one or two of the kids were first-time hikers, and there is an important lesson to be learned about collecting shiny rocks while hiking. I imagine the internal monologue goes something like this:

"Boy oh boy, look at this cool rock. I should take it home and show all my friends. Hey, here's another one. Let's bring it home too. There's three more--even more awesome than the first two! This is great! What a fantastic rock collection I'm going to have. Hmm, wonder how my backpack got so heavy...."

Only one child from La Capilla managed to get up early enough to make the 6:30am bus this week--the intrepid Crystal. Every week she grows more courageous and more skillful at navigating the trails and boulders.

I predict that a day will come when she is the one leading this program, teaching the little ones how to get down a steep hill or cross a creek without getting your feet wet.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Sunday Night Basketball

After planting the garden at La Capilla last week a group of kids were playing basketball behind the church. I joined in on the game and we had a great time. I decided it would be a great idea to continue playing basketball every week after church on Sundays. We put it in the newsletter that basketball was Sunday nights at 7 behind the church. Yesterday we had 10 people show up to play. We might not be the NBA but we sure did have a fun time. It was a great opportunity to get to know some of the people out there at La Capilla. Being new I am still getting to know people and their names. What better way to get to know children then to play sports. We had a great time and plan on playing again every Sunday after church during the summer. All are welcome, feel free to join us. You can come to the service at La Capilla at 6pm or just join us for basketball following the service at 7pm. See you on the court.

Monday, June 4, 2012


Aldous Huxley claimed his father found "a walk among the mountains as the equivalent of churchgoing."

 I imagine he had in mind a solitary, silent ramble through the hills--bird singing, brook gurgling, wind whispering. Plenty of time for reflection and contemplation....

That was not so much the atmosphere of our recent Adventure Club trip to Jump Creek.

Instead, try four adults and twelve kids, aged kindergarten to junior high, scrambling up rocks, hopping across creeks, catching (well, trying to catch) lizards, yelling, sweating, laughing, helping each other, and learning about themselves and their world.

Still, "churchgoing" might not be such an odd description: it was pretty awesome to see Grace kids and Capilla kids building friendships, gaining confidence in themselves, asking questions, and taking initiative.

Some of the younger ones--for whom this hiking thing was a brand new experience--spent the first hour clinging to the adults in terror. What? You want me to cross that creek on those wobbly little rocks? You want me to climb down that hill? Don't you see how steep and slippery it is?

They were entirely new to the basic skills of edging sideways down a hill, using the rocks embedded in the slope to keep from sliding, or dropping to all fours when it gets steep.We spent awhile saying "Put your foot here, now step here, now here."

But they didn't give up, not even the little kindergartener, Kimberly, who whimpered so incessantly that I finally asked her, "Do you want to stop here? Do you want to go back down?"

Still mewling, she shook her head emphatically and pointed up at the big kids, fifteen feet up. She wanted to climb! By the time we got up there, we were both panting and covered in sweat, but she caught her breath and turned to me with a radiant smile. And you would hardly believe it, but by the end of the afternoon, she and her friend Crystal were tramping out ahead of the group down the trail, confident as can be.

This was the first Adventure Club trip of the year, but no doubt there will be many more stories to tell this summer. The group will be going 2-3 times a month all summer long, with the next trip starting at 6:30 from Grace this coming Wednesday.

Friday, June 1, 2012

Of Scientists and Water Balloons

Leslie and Concepcion decorate their posters.
The end of school is here, which means finishing up final projects. Several of our Capilla kids had the same project last week--an essay and a poster about a famous scientist.

The students were able to use the office computer to find information and images, and we provided some of the creative materials, such as foam letters, construction paper, and other art supplies. I found my role as a tutor was mostly one of emotional support: "Yes, I think that picture looks great there. Sure, you could use these letters to spell out her name. What a great idea! Go for it!" Turns out you need a lot of confidence and courage to put the first permanent mark on a clean, white poster board.

The educator in me has to laugh sometimes at how far these assignments in practice are removed from their ideal. When Concepcion told me her subject was Dr. Mae Jemison, my reaction, naturally, was "Who's that?"

Deztiny writes about Sir Isaac Newton
The first African-American woman astronaut to go into space, apparently. But Concepcion and her friend Deztiny were both flabbergasted that I, an adult who claimed to be smart and college educated, didn't know about Mae Jemison. Hands on her hips, Deztiny turned to me and demanded, "Well, do you know who Sir Isaac Newton is?"

So, context is still a work in progress. But who knows? Maybe Mae Jemison should be as important as Sir Isaac Newton.

Anyway, this week we celebrated the end of this year's homework club with cupcakes, ice cream, and water balloons. I spent most of the hour standing by the sink, trying to fill balloons faster than the kids could throw them at each other--a pretty hopeless endeavor.

I finally stepped out into the sun just in time to get a bucket of water over the head, courtesy of Alex. The rest of the kids were shocked that he'd dared to soak an adult, but he just looked at me smugly and said, "Mother Karen told me she's going to make you ride home in the trunk." 

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Getting Ready to Graduate

Yesterday I took Adriana to buy a dress for graduation.  She needed my assistance because her mother is taking her one day off to attend the graduation and other extended family members were unavailable.  When she asked me, I couldn’t help remembering my own graduation.  All the “cool” girls wore hot pants, which no one saw, of course, under those long robes!  It was, nonetheless, an assertion of identity and independence on a day wrapped in the traditions of the past.  So when she asked me to take her shopping, I knew how important a graduation dress can be.

Adriana is the mother of two small children.  She is also the first girl in her family to graduate from high school.  It has been difficult, but, after the birth of her second child, she was determined to graduate.  She is also clear that she wants to be a nurse and is already registered at the local community college where she will begin her four year program.  Unlike her older siblings, Adriana was born in the United States, so with hard work and determination, nothing stands between her and her dreams.  This is a gift that she does not take for granted.

So, with great anticipation and some trepidation we went shopping, looking for just the right dress in a particular shade of pink.  And even though it is “not this year’s color” we found it!  Then we went to lunch to celebrate.  Next week at graduation, Adriana will confidently step forward (In her pink dress that no one can see) and proudly lead the pledge of allegiance.  And when she does, it will be an assertion of identity and independence as she steps boldly into a new future for herself and her family.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Neighbors and Need

Last Wednesday, as I was getting organized for our Youth Group evening, Maria, one of our ministry coordinators, told me that a member was coming to speak with me.  She had a neighbor whose husband had been arrested and would probably be deported.  The woman in question has four children and the electric company had disconnected her power that very afternoon.  It wasn’t long before they arrived and explained the situation, speaking Spanish with Maria interpreting.  Everyone was clear that the neighbor belonged to another church.  The member who brought her was also clear that she didn’t know the neighbor well.  She didn’t know why the husband had been arrested.  All she knew, and she was adamant about this, was that it was too much for anyone to have four children and no assistance.
We needed to help.

After the problem was clear, we excused ourselves and discussed what we might do to help.  Funds are very limited, but we do have some money that we earned catering a dinner for a diocesan event.  We decided that we would pay a portion of the outstanding electric bill.  Maria said she would assist the neighbor to contact other agencies and our member said she could share her home and appliances until the electricity could be restored.  She would also assist her neighbor to contact her own church for assistance.  Having come to this conclusion, we rejoined the neighbor and offered our assistance.  After many “thank-you!”s, the women left, leaving the older children behind to have supper and play games.

Sometimes it’s hard to appreciate the holiness of moments like these.  There is so much to do, so much need, and so few resources.  It’s so easy to let feelings of impotence and frustration overwhelm the call to sit together in need and wait upon God.   But this is the grace that has been given to us.  And it is through this gift of humility, suffering , challenge, and the company of one another, that together, we are becoming Church.

Friday, May 4, 2012

Homework Club

The intersection of the communities of Grace Church and La Capilla is a special thing--one of the things that drew me to become a member of Grace Episcopal less than a year ago. It's rare for two congregations--separated by miles, languages, and even culture--to share fellowship and ministry, but it is deeply enriching for all of us who are lucky enough to be a part of it.

Lately, my biggest involvement at La Capilla has been the after-school homework club held twice a week at the church. Kids start trickling in after school lets out, and before long, the room is full of activity. Math worksheets, spelling lists, and reading are the most common, but occasionally a big project comes along--last week, Leslie got help with her shadow box project for history class.

Even when they don't have homework, the kids show up anyway. We've been collecting quite a stack of games, from Hi Ho Cherry-Oh for the little ones to spelling, math, and memory games for the big kids.  I have to confess, I got royally crushed in Toy Story Memory the other day by Maite, who has an uncanny knack for spatial recall. While the other kids and I were trying to decide whether or not we had seen that Buzz Lightyear card somewhere on the grid before, she calmly leaned across the table and flipped it over, then found the original, and added both cards to her stack with a satisfied smile. By the end of the game, she was giving us all hints. "That one? Oh, it's over here--somewhere in THIS area"--with a wide sweeping gesture across the cards. For my part, it didn't help. I still lost soundly.

We're having a good time, though--getting to know the kids as their personalities and individual gifts come out more and more. I for one will be a little disappointed when school lets out for the summer--but fall will come soon enough. And in the meantime, we'll have Adventure Club to keep us busy. But those are stories for another day...

Thursday, May 3, 2012

We are excited to be sharing the life and ministry of La Capilla.  For me it is a place of challenge, wonder, and change, or in priest talk, a place of grace and transformational blessing!
A continual sense of newness and energy make ministry here fun and wonderful.  This joy sustains us all through the struggles we face, both as individuals and as a community, and fills us with confidence for the unknown way ahead.   But it wasn’t always so. 

The Rev. Ray Oropeza is standing in the center.  
We began ministry in this small community after a failed attempt at a Spanish liturgy at our home church.  It seemed the prudent thing to take church to the people instead of trying to get the people to come to church, especially since there was fifteen miles between.  Our first service was on Palm Sunday four years ago.  The Rev. Ray Oropeza presided.  The service was held in the community hall and setting up for the service took almost as long as the worship itself!  The building was noisy and on occasion the rooms used for children’s ministry would be locked.  It was difficult to get the word out and attendance was small and sporadic.  But Rev. Oropeza had the gift of quiet patience and so week after week he came;  to visit, to listen, to knock on doors, and to celebrate Holy Communion and pray with the people gathered.  Slowly a community of faith began to form.  When he died unexpectedly the following year, a small church mourned his passing.

Since then the church has grown and in the fall of 2011 we were able to move into a building where there is an office, a chapel, a nursery, as well as a meeting and worship space.  It is in the heart of the community so now La Capilla de la Gracia is at work seven days a week.  The ministry administrators, Maria and Ofelia, welcome all who come.  They listen to needs and fears and connect people with the services they are seeking.  They have developed networking partners throughout the valley and sponsor any number of health and education programs for area residents.  On Tuesdays and Thursdays children come for assistance with homework, tutoring, and a general good time with adult volunteers.  A youth program meets every other Wednesday evening for supper, games, art, and religious education.  An adult Bible study meets weekly and classes for sacrament preparation are ongoing.  There is a small food bank.  Slowly, but surely, La Capilla is building community and becoming a place of welcome and peace.

On Sunday the large meeting room becomes a sanctuary for worship at 2 p.m.  This late hour gives those who work in the fields a chance to get needed rest and the priest time to travel.  A small chapel is being developed so that there will be a place set apart to meditate and pray during the week.  We are excited to announce that the bishop will be coming to dedicate the chapel on June 24!

La Capilla is an extension of the community and ministry of Grace Episcopal Church.  Our mission is to be one people worshipping in two languages.  We do ministry with one another, just as we, on occasion, worship with one another.  Both spaces, both ministries, belong to all.  This is especially true with our youth ministries.  Children and youth from both places participate fully together.  We are currently gearing up for Adventure Club.  This names our every other week hiking adventure!  We leave early in the morning on Wednesdays and return in the early afternoon.  (Watch for our great pictures and posts!)  The challenge of hiking the mountains and deserts has a subtle, yet profound effect that overlooks our differences and lets us connect with God and one another in a unique and wonderful way.